In 1830 Michael Thonet began his first experiments with Bentwood.

Sheets of Veneer lain parallel to the grain and were cut into uniform sized regular strips. These were then boiled in a solution of glue. Once bundled together and attached to wood, or later still to metal frames, they would be bent into the desired form.

This pliable material once curved lost in thickness and so thin strips of Veneer were added to compensate for the loss. One disadvantage of this process: the hygroscopic glue gathered water from the surroundings and lost its strength.

In 1856 Thonet solved this problem: after a lengthy period of watering and steaming began the bending of solid wood with the help of Sheet Iron Strips in Casting Moulds. This wood, which was cut as it had naturally grown, and in the direction of the grain was, in solid pieces, bent as the form or shape demanded.

Lightness and a greater strength was joined together with a delicacy and flexibility. The discovery of to use the natural characteristics of wood and how to overcome it`s limitations, by influencing and utilising a bending process, was Michael Thonet`s greatest invention and at the same time the prerequisite for the mass production of Bentwood furniture.

In 1842 Michael Thonet was granted the Patent ?Holz in beliebige Formen und Schweifungen zu biegen? (Wood bending, in any Shape and Form) by the K.K. allgemeinen Hofkammer in Vienna. In 1853 the Patent was renewed and remained upright until 1869.

Once the Patent expired the Bentwood industry rapidly developed, so much so, that by 1893, 51 companies (25 in Austria-Hungary) were in production.

Jacob&Josef Kohn

Jacob & Josef Kohn in Vienna became Thonet`s largest competitor. While Thonet required one to two hours to make their wooden rods flexible using steam, their rival Kohn had installed a machine which could produce these parts within 3 - 5 minutes. This allowed, the 4 factories belonging to the Kohn brothers to produce 5,500 pieces of furniture daily.

For the Parisiene World Trades Fair of 1900 the Kohn brothers appointed the Viennese architect Josef Hoffmann and his pupil Gustav Siegel as members of their design team. Siegels Exhibition Room won the Grand Prix of the Fair for the Kohn brothers.

In light of this success the Thonet company expanded their work with architects and designers.

The most famous of the architects and designers who worked for Kohn und Thonet are: Josef Hoffmann, Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, Koloman Moser, Gustav Siegel, Marcel Kammerer and Otto Prutscher. In 1923 the three largest Austrian manufacturers of Bentwood furniture merged, these were: J. und J. Kohn, Mundus und Thonet.

Foto: Karolinsky-Archive